Homeowners’ claims after a fire that their insurer was negligent because a policy didn’t fully cover replacement costs was time-barred because the policy limits were discoverable at the time the policy was issued, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
Justices affirmed the rulings of the Madison Circuit Court and Indiana Court of Appeals in Christopher Groce and Tracey Groce v. American Family Mutual Insurance Company, and Michael A. Meek, 48S02-1307-CT-472. The couple sued American Family and their agent, Michael Meek, less than two years after a fire caused major damage to their Knightstown home in 2007.
The Groces’ claim fell within the statute of limitations for a negligence claim based on the date of the fire, but justices applied Filip v. Block, 879 N.E.2d 1076 (Ind. 2008) to determine that “the cause of action of a tort claim accrues and the statute of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff knew or, in the exercise of ordinary diligence, could have discovered that an injury had been sustained as a result of the tortious act of another."
The court said Filip was strikingly similar to Groce. While the Groces claimed they relied on Meek’s alleged representation that he would “get this written up” when they said they wanted 100 percent replacement value, justices ruled this was a promise of future activity, and the coverage limits in the Groces’ policy continue to apply.
“In conclusion, we find from the undisputed facts that the Groces, in the exercise of ordinary diligence in reviewing their homeowners insurance policy, could have timely discovered that the company's replacement cost liability was capped at the dwelling loss coverage limit, contrary to their claim for negligent procurement of inadequate or wrong coverage,” Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote for the unanimous court.
“For this reason, the statute of limitations in this case began to run no later than the first policy renewal after the alleged statements of Meek to Tracey Groce on August 18, 2003. The trial court was correct to grant summary judgment on the basis of the applicable two-year statute of limitations.”